Boycott Mayberry? How North Carolina lost its shine for Obama.
After helping put President Obama over the top in 2008, North Carolina seemed the perfect place to hold the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But the Southern state has become symbolic of the economic and social headwinds Obama faces in his reelection.
Petitions by gay groups this week aimed at plucking the upcoming Democratic National Convention out of Charlotte, N.C., and plopping it elsewhere after the state convincingly passed a gay marriage ban are unlikely to succeed.
But stirring discontent with North Carolina, punctuated by Obamaâ€™s reversal on gay marriage and declaration of support a day after the state referendum, isnâ€™t the only red flag thatâ€™s whipping around a year after Democrats picked Charlotte as their 2012 convention site, partly as a symbol of Obamaâ€™s outreach to Dixie and to highlight the economic and demographic transformation of North Carolina from Mayberry quaintness to harbinger of a 21st century knowledge economy.
Since Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to prevail there since Jimmy Carter in 1976, the state has come to symbolize many of the Democratsâ€™ challenges as they seek Obamaâ€™s reelection: stubborn economic hardship (9.7 percent unemployment), culture war battles on the ascendant, and a scandal-riven state party that has struggled to reassemble and excite the mosaic of voter groups that backed Obama in 2008.
That battle heated up this week after the gay marriage ban was approved by a 61 to 39 margin along neat geographical lines, making North Carolina the 26th state with such an amendment.
Solidly in favor were the stateâ€™s vast rural tracts, where the stateâ€™s political power still resides. Solidly opposed were the stateâ€™s growing urban areas, like Raleigh and Chapel Hill, which have come to define the transformation of North Carolina from an agrarian, tobacco-growing backwater to a polyglot society of immigrants and newcomers, where about half the populace hails from somewhere else, often from another country.
In 2008, Obama managed to exploit anger at George W. Bush while rallying young people, many of them first-time voters, to the polls. But this time those voters may be harder to reach.
Young people, especially, are bearing the brunt of economic hard times. And blacks in North Carolina, who came out in force for Obama in 2008, overwhelmingly supported the gay marriage ban, highlighting the hazards of the Presidentâ€™s political high-wire act on gay marriage.
That stance may become even more complicated as many Democrats are now pushing for gay marriage to become part of the Democratic platform to be approved in Charlotte, which could turn out to be divisive and distracting, especially given that the majority of voters in North Carolina remain, at least on the books, Democrats.
The Charlotte pick for the convention has also angered many union workers, who complain that there are no unionized hotels in North Carolinaâ€™s banking capital. Some of them plan to join gay marriage advocates in protest at the convention.
The Presidentâ€™s North Carolina woes donâ€™t end there.
The state has also become a nexus of Obama backlash. Since 2008, Republicans took over both chambers of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, who had hoped that Obamaâ€™s presence in the state could elevate her own campaign, has decided not to run for reelection amid widespread speculation that sheâ€™d have little chance of winning.
To make matters worse, her decision not to seek reelection came after she admitted to being aware of an attempted cover-up of sexual harassment allegations involving the state Democratic party executive director. The scandal has demoralized state Democrats and left the party in bitter disarray.
In the end, North Carolina may be more problematic for the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, than Obama, whom political experts say can more easily cobble together an electoral college victory without the stateâ€™s 15 presidential electors.
Even on that front, North Carolina symbolizes national voter excitement ahead of the election. More than 40,000 more people voted in this yearâ€™s primaries than in 2008, even though the national contest had largely been settled.
But while the North Carolina convention has suddenly come to represent Democratsâ€™ complicated path to victory in November, others believe the big party in Charlotte in August will become a clarion call for Obamaâ€™s campaign.
â€śI think the greatest strength that the party has is President Obama, and heâ€™s the thing that people will rally around,â€ť Gary Pearce, a former Democratic consultant in the state, told the Associated Press.